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Civic center board votes to make $73,500 payment to Rush

The Rushmore Plaza Civic Center has agreed to pay the Rapid City Rush $73,500 to offset the hockey team’s financial losses in October.

The payment was approved on a 3-1 vote Tuesday by the Civic Center Board.

The payment is part of an agreement between Rushmore Plaza Civic Center Executive Director Craig Baltzer and Rush ownership that was announced in May by the city after it was signed in December 2017. The agreement has never been approved by the civic center board as both sides continue to “negotiate in good faith” for a “potential further amendment,” according to civic center documents.

“We’re trying to maintain our flexibility,” city attorney Joel Landeen said when asked why the agreement has not been formally approved.

The agreement contains a $250,000 line of credit extended by the civic center to the Rush, which is required of all hockey teams in the ECHL. It also includes a $108,000 rent discount for the 2017-18 season.

Overall, the civic center has agreed to cover up to $350,000 annually in financial losses over the next three seasons.

“Theoretically, they (civic center board) could come in and keep paying over the amount ($350,000),” said Landeen in reference to the agreement’s non-approved, non-binding status.

But because the payments must be ratified by the board monthly, Landeen said exceeding the cap was unlikely.

“We intend to honor our obligations made in the letter of agreement at this point,” he said.

In exchange for financial help, Rush ownership guarantees that it will negotiate a contract with the ECHL to play three additional seasons — 2018/19, 2019/20, 2020/21 — and that if the team is sold, ownership will make a good faith effort to keep the team in Rapid City. Baltzer also acquired a role in the team’s advisory management, business planning and team operations.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Baltzer said that he was “definitely a little more involved” and had “some influence” in team decisions.

If the team starts turning a profit, the civic center would be the first to receive the revenue for reimbursement. If the team is sold for a profit, the civic center would be the first party reimbursed, too.

In June, Baltzer said the funds would come from the civic center’s operational budget, and more specifically, the profits made from Rush hockey. In short, the civic center decided to reduce its profit margins with the Rush in an effort to keep the hockey team in Rapid City for the near future. Mayor Steve Allender said the city had made $16 million in rent payments and concession sales from Rush hockey over the past decade.

“It would not be a smart business decision to walk away,” Allender said in June.

The Rush’s shaky financial footing comes amid sagging attendance brought on by what principal owner Scott Mueller described as poor team performance and the loss of novelty of the team.

“It’s been losing some money for the last few years,” Mueller said in June, adding that the last time he checked just seven of the ECHL’s 27 teams turned a profit.

If the team is ultimately sold, the city would probably enter into a new agreement with the new ownership group, Landeen said. One potential benefit of new ownership would be the possibility that they are more well-positioned to take on short-term losses, meaning the civic center wouldn’t be responsible for future cash calls. If the current ownership team remains, the agreement would need to be ratified, Landeen said.

“I don’t know that just because we call it something else, it’s going to change the relationship at this point,” Landeen said when asked how a formal approval might change the situation. Both parties have followed the agreement conditions without problems thus far, he added.


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HOLIDAY LIGHTS BRIGHTEN THE CITY
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Keystone's 'Big' Dave Murra fighting for his life

"Big" Dave Murra, a larger-than-life Black Hills personality and entertainer, is fighting for his life — and his friends are asking for help.

"John (Rich) and I came to know Dave back in the day when we were first coming to Deadwood," "Big" Kenny Alphin, a co-owner of the Deadwood Mountain Grand and one-half of the popular Nashville country music duo Big & Rich, said Tuesday. "We did the photo shoot for our first album in town and were introduced to all these characters, including Dave."

Big & Rich announced Tuesday that a GoFundMe page has been established for Murra, who, according to a press release from the Deadwood Mountain Grand "is currently on a feeding tube" and whose 7-foot 3-inch frame "weighs less than 200 pounds right now."

Another GoFundMe, established by Murra's sister, states her brother has chronic pancreatitis and has intolerable pain while eating. She says her brother has moved in with family in Brookings and is preparing for surgery at the University of Minnesota Medical Center in Minneapolis.

Murra's bullwhip, long beard, large presence and country hospitality made him a fixture on the tourism-rich streets of Keystone over the years.

"I just saw him this summer," Alphin said. "I see 'Big' Dave walking up the street and didn't even know he was in town, and we just hung out and talked, and he never even mentioned he was sick to me. It wasn't until other people started calling me to say, 'You know, Dave isn't doing well right now, he's having a tough go of it,' that I found out."

Contributions to the GoFundMe pages totaling over $6,000 have come in to help defray costs for rent, transportation to and from Minneapolis, and lodging for a man that friends and family describe as a gentle giant.

According to the press release, surgery that would remove Murra's pancreas, spleen and some of his intestines is pending in Minneapolis. He is being cared for by his sister while awaiting surgery.

"He's part of one of those things that we've always loved about Deadwood and the Black Hills," Alphin said. "There is a flavor of the Wild West there, and there's this giant of man like that who just needs our help right now."

In a 2013 Journal article on Keystone, Murra was featured as a staple of summer life in the small town that sits in the shadow of Mount Rushmore and attracts thousands of tourists each summer.

In the article, a passage describes Murra as a key part of Keystone's tourism industry.

"In the time between shows, he sits at what looks like a tiny table and chair on the boardwalk outside the Red Garter Saloon talking to tourists and occasionally sneaking a cigarette. People ask to take pictures with him and many are pleasantly surprised by his jovial personality, a stark contrast to his burly appearance."

To give to Murra, visit gofundme.com/benefit-for-big-dave or gofundme.com/help-big-dave-murra.


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Judge gives veteran break in vehicular battery case

A man who seriously injured his cousin in a drunken driving crash last year was given five years probation Tuesday after a judge said he was taking the man's military service into account, as well as the fact that he was being sentenced two days after Veterans Day. 

"What you did was incredibly reckless, incredibly stupid," Judge Robert Gusinsky of the state 7th Circuit Court told Conan Morrison. "This is your opportunity to turn your life around."

Morrison, a 32-year-old who lives in Bridger, pleaded guilty last month to vehicular battery after he admitted to fleeing from police and crashing his car near the Badlands National Park in June 2017. 

His cousin, who was riding in the passenger seat, suffered broken ribs and a vertebrae in the accident, according to a police report. 

As part of his plea deal, the prosecutors dropped five other counts: two DUIs, aggravated eluding, reckless driving and falsely identifying himself to law enforcement. They also dropped an habitual offender charge, which often leads to longer sentences. 

Vehicular battery, a class 4 felony, can result in a prison sentence of up to 10 years, but Pennington County Deputy State's Attorney Arman Zeljkovic asked Gusinsky to sentence Morrison to two years in the penitentiary. 

Morrison was "highly intoxicated" and injured himself and his cousin while fleeing from the police, Zeljkovic said. 

"Simply put, the defendant put himself and others in a very dangerous situation," he said, calling Morrison a "danger to the community."

Conor Duffy, Morrison's defense attorney, said he and his client both agree the behavior was "unforgivably reckless."

He asked the judge to sentence his client to probation, citing his five years in the military, including two combat tours in Iraq, as proof that Morrison can follow orders. 

Duffy said his client is almost finished with his associate's degree, recently began treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, and has committed no crimes while out on bond. 

Morrison said he is sorry for hurting his cousin. 

"I don't plan on getting into trouble after this," he said. 

In addition to five years of probation, Gusinsky gave Morrison a suspended execution of sentence of 10 years in prison, which means he could be sent to prison if he breaks probation rules. 

Those rules include attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and other counseling, being sober and not entering any bars, writing an apology letter to his cousin and participating in a victim impact panel. During the beginning of his probation term, Morrison will have to prove he's sober through tests or a special bracelet. 

"I wish you luck, I really do," Gusinsky told Morrison.